Joao Moutinho leaves Orlando City, signs with Spezia in Italy

May 7, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Orlando City SC defender Joao Moutinho (4) plays the ball and CF
May 7, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Orlando City SC defender Joao Moutinho (4) plays the ball and CF / Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Left back Joao Moutinho is officially leaving Orlando City, with Italian club Spezia announcing it had signed the Portuguese defender on Friday. Moutinho posted a goodbye message on Instagram Wednesday before the move was made official in Italy.

"Thank you to everyone that was involved and made this journey so rewarding. I leave with my head held high knowing that I always gave my best for the team," Moutinho said. "To all the fans, thank you for the incredible support, day in and day out. To “The City Beautiful”, you will always have a very special place in my heart."

Moutinho had long been connected with a move to Europe, especially with the former No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick on an expiring contract. The Portuguese defender never re-signed with the Lions, and will now ply his trade in one of the premier leagues in the world.

The 24-year-old left back played 85 games in Orlando in all competitions after arriving in a trade before the 2019 season. The former Akron Zip earned Best XI honors in the 2020 MLS is Back tournament, helping propel the Lions to the final.

Moutinho played a crucial role in Orlando's ascendence under head coach Oscar Pareja. His high techincal ability and defensive solidity made him a vital starter under Pareja and helped the club win the US Open Cup and make the MLS Cup playoffs in three consecutive seasons.

Spezia currently sit in 17th place in Seria A, six points clear of relegation. The small Italian club is led by Chelsea loanee and Welsh international defender Ethan Ampadu, who also spent time at Venezia in Italy.

The club has an American ownership group and has previously been linked with American and MLS players. Current DC United midfielder Chris Durkin and US international right back Reggie Cannon have both been linked with the Italian club, though Moutinho is the first MLS import.